cacio e pepe, italian comfort food

Day 5. No School. All family members are safe, but not very sound. The walls of our three-room apartment feel like they’re closing in, but that is really just our sanity slipping away. That is what my journal entry would like, were I keeping a blizzard journal. Suburban life has been an adjustment, and one that doesn’t always feel like the right fit. Weathering suburban life after a blizzard is enough to make me scrawl redrum on the walls.

Montgomery County encompasses a large area (more than 500 square miles), so while things seem relatively okay on the main roads where we live, parts further west and north, are still dealing with snow removal issues (we had 27 inches here in North Bethesda). And then there’s the schools—as of Tuesday afternoon they only them 60% cleared. I’ve almost lost hope on there being any school this week, but we shall see what tomorrow brings. Continue reading »

a kiss to build a dream on

Navigating life without my sidekick is lonely. There’s no one who gets my Seinfeld references. I often feel alone in a crowded room. It’s easy to let this get me down, but I work minute-by-minute to temper my sad feelings with the memories of all the good ones.

Making pasta is one of those good memories. I’d never made it until I met Mikey. For a single guy, he had a relatively good collection of kitchen equipment. A blender, an assortment of pots and pans, a demitasse coffee maker, and an Atlas pasta maker. I don’t remember if he had ever attempted making it before we met. In fact, I don’t remember the first time I even made it. I do remember shedding many tears over the years of failed attempts though, mostly from not enough liquid in the dough.

Over my 16 years of making fresh pasta, I’ve learned three key things. First, room temperature eggs make a difference. They blend more easily with the flour. Pasta dough needs to nap, so once it’s kneaded, wrap it in plastic wrap and let it rest on the counter, at room temperature, for at least 20 minutes, and up to an hour if you have the time. My last trick is using some semolina flour. It helps add elasticity to the dough, making it easier to roll out.

Continue reading »

basil pesto: summer fest 2010

My appreciation for pesto developed in my early twenties. While my aunt's gravy was killer—I still haven't figured out her secret, her pesto was always a bit bracing and more reminiscent of a garlic fest. Then one day I went to a friend's house to visit her newborn daughter.

Parents know enjoying a homecooked meal seems more like a treat in those early days. Personally, we ate take-out for the first month after Isabella was born. It was all the Mr. and I could do to keep our heads above water. Lack of sleep for weeks on end will do that to you.

Diego being from Northern Italy had a different connection to food. They rarely ever ordered in. Sleep deprivation seemed to bring out the best in his cooking. He also had a simple approach to preparation, and knew just a few fresh, good-quality ingredients were really all you needed to
delight your tastebuds and leave a comforting feeling in your belly.

Continue reading »

20 minute meals—pasta carbonara

The last few weeks have been busy ones indeed, and I've found myself reaching into the depths of my pantry and quick-thinking skills to get dinner on the table faster than ever. I'm not vying for bragging rights—just in search of meals that'll make everyone at our table happy. Pasta carbonara fits the bill perfectly.

It started out as the Mr.'s go-to dish while I was still working at Alain Ducasse at the Essex House. I'd been reading Ruth Reichl's Garlic & Sapphires and emailed him the recipe to make for dinner one night. Since the most involved part of the recipe was chopping up and frying bacon, I knew he could handle it while juggling a 2 year old.

Yes, he was a Mr. Mom of sorts in between projects of his own back then.

Continue reading »

homemade manicotti

I try to never go back on my word. It’s one of the tenets of parenting. You must keep your promises (which is why it’s also important to be careful what promises you make!). Well, I know I teased you with my last post on Parmesan Skillet Croutons. I said it was the start of a mini-series in baby steps in cooking that would lead to a velvety, comforting rich tomato soup. That was before i found out that my recipe for homemade manicotti was a finalist over at Food 52. So, please forgive me for my little white lie. I promise next week to come back with a recipe for homemade bouillon (baby step #2). But, today, let’s talk about these tender pasta crepes filled with creamy tufts of fresh ricotta cheese and lightly dressed with marinara sauce.

I can’t recall the first time I tasted homemade manicotti, but the experience left an indelible impression on my tastebuds. I’d never been a fan of them, and that was likely because the commercially manufactured ones are belly bombers. My family never made them from scratch.

Then one day I found myself in the kitchen with the urge to make them myself. I started by making some fresh ricotta. It’s incredibly easy, so give it a try. If you pressed for time, then it’s okay to buy it, but make sure it’s fresh—you’d just be doing yourself a disservice otherwise. And don’t forget about the marinara sauce. Surprisingly, I’ve never posted my recipe, so here’s the short version.

Continue reading »

brown butter brussels sprouts & butternut squash

I was excited to see this week’s Food 52 contest was paying homage to Brussels sprouts. For as much as I now love them, I remember the moaning when they were served with lunch when I was in daycare way back when. I don’t remember exactly when I rediscovered them, but I look forward to fall when they pop up in farmers’ markets. While they’re pretty expensive at $4 a pound here, out in Long Island’s North Fork, I’ve scored whole stalks for $1— a treat both delicious and beautiful to look at.

The thing about Brussels sprouts is they always play second fiddle on the dinner plate. I wanted a dish where they’d star front and center. I made a mental review of what was in the fridge and remembered I had a half a butternut squash. It would add some natural sweetness to balance their earthy, almost bitter flavor. Bacon is always a classic pairing, and who am I to deny the two a chance to mix it up in a dish? Then comes the secret ingredient (okay, so maybe I blew it by mentioning it in the title). Yes, I really did up the ante by browning the butter. Tossed together with some penne, and my job was done—Brussels sprouts had been elevated from a mere side dish. Who could possibly resist a meal with bacon and brown butter? Even a finicky six-year old who at first glance said “I don’t think I’m going to like this” ate half a serving.

Continue reading »

Cooking on Instinct: farfalle with lemon, walnuts and parmesan

Well, it's been a while. Thanks to all the amazing bloggers who guest posted and shared their wonderful recipes. I was getting near the end of my rope, so to speak, and that end of summer vacation was much needed. The Mr. and I have been going to North Truro for 14 years now. Almost the furthest tip of Cape Cod, it's the last town before Provincetown, it's nestled between Cape Cod Bay and the ocean. And the view from our deck is just what the doctor ordered for this busy city girl.

Continue reading »

Backyard Basil Pesto + Taste This! Cookbook Giveaway

Pesto’s been part of my life since an early age. My aunt’s amazing green thumb yielded more basil than you can imagine on her Brooklyn roof deck. I didn’t fall in love with it though until I was in my early twenties. What really inspired me to get to my Italian roots was a co-worker’s Italian husband. I’m talking born and bred in Northern Italy, so eating there was always a treat and very eye-opening compared to my Italian-American upbringing. For the first time I experienced pesto that was creamy and delicately coated each strand of spaghetti. It was saturated in oil and didn’t have enough garlic capable of warding off vampires.

Perhaps my journalistic skills weren’t honed then, or I was just too busy enjoying the food, but for whatever reason I didn’t ask Diego for his recipe. About two months later, I did find a book that would unlock the answers for me. I was roaming through a used bookstore in the North Beach section of San Francisco and came across a copy of Northern Italian Cooking by Francesco Ghedini. Turns out the book was published the year I was born, so 1973 had a couple of good things cooking back then.

Continue reading »

Chicken Noodle Soup

I never watched how my mom made chicken soup but know she used to puree the celery and pour it back in to the soup because she said we didn’t like it. She’d also mash the carrots and serve it with a sprinkle of Parmesan cheese, as many Italian-Americans do.

While I still have an aversion to raw celery, I love it cooked. My own recipe for chicken soup used a complicated technique listed in numerous cookbooks. Dump raw chicken and vegetables into pot, cover with water and cook. Quite a few years back, I started making my stock from leftover roasted chicken carcass, a not so secret way to infuse extra flavor. It’s a wonderful green, waste-not-want-not use for leftovers, and I’ll still use it on the day after I make roasted chicken. Recently, though, I came across a recipe that turned out to be the best & quickest chicken soup I’ve ever made in From My Mother’s Kitchen (Ryland, Peters & Small, 2009), which I’m featuring in the August/September issue of Working Mother magazine (is this where EW would insert “spoiler alert”?).

Continue reading »

Bacon & Eggs for Dinner

Ever since I came across Ruth Reichl’s recipe for Spaghetti Carbonara in Garlic & Sapphires, it’s been a regular on my dinner menu. I’ve tweaked it over the years and prefer pancetta, an Italian-style bacon, over regular but you can certainly use whatever’s on hand in your fridge. The one ingredient you shouldn’t skimp on is the eggs. My fave are farm-fresh ones from the Greenmarket (Grazin’ Angus Acres‘ are the holy grail). Serve it with a salad and it’s the perfect Monday night meal —an easy stress-free way to ease into a week’s worth of dinners.

Continue reading »